With 40 chapters on six continents, the HKS Women’s Network (HKSWN) is an on-the-ground policymaking and networking force that, like so many of the School’s alumni networks, has an impact on issues that matter.

two women sit with microphones speaking in front of a conference slide
Farah Arabe HKSEE 2018 (right) at W20 in February

This year, the HKSWN embarked on a new partnership with Women 20 (W20), one of 11 bodies that advise the Group of 20 (G20). W20, like the G20, is led by a rotating list of nations—and this year, India has the presidency and hosted all meetings. Through various convenings both in person and virtual, members of W20 are providing policy recommendations in five areas: women’s entrepreneurship, grassroots women’s leadership, bridging the gender digital divide, education and skills development, and climate change.

The HKSWN offers to W20 subject-matter and regional expertise. Says Farah Arabe HKSEE 2018, co-president of the HKSWN, “Whenever they have a need for global expertise, perspectives, or input, we can tap into our network of talented professionals and connect them with W20.”

Angela Joo-Hyun Kang MC/MPA 2006, the chapter lead for the HKSWN in South Korea and head of the South Korean delegation for W20, had forged connections in previous years between the HKSWN and W20, laying the groundwork for the formalized partnership. Another HKSWN member, Dharitri Patnaik MC/MPA 2005, is this year’s chief coordinator for W20 and serves as the primary liaison between the two groups.

Chatrapatti Sambhajinagar in February

The partnership kicked off at the W20 India Inception Meeting in February in Chatrapatti Sambhajinagar (formerly Aurangabad), where Arabe spoke on a panel about women and grassroots leadership with a focus on mothers as changemakers. Noting that a significant body of research shows that children and mothers who lack social, emotional, and financial support experience negative and far-reaching physical and mental health consequences, Arabe explained how these outcomes have long-term repercussions for global economics, peace, and health. “The message inspired an ongoing conversation that permeated into other panels and sessions, bringing the care economy to the center stage of W20,” says Arabe.

“Zero Draft” and Jaipur in April

A panel of women sitting in front of a room of people, with a screen with a close up of one woman speaking being shown
Tatiana Der Avedissian HKSEE 2019 (on screen, left) at W20 in April

Tatiana Der Avedissian HKSEE 2019, co-president of the HKSWN, convened expert members of the network on topics such as the science of climate change, environmental law, finance, and peace and security. They submitted to W20 a paper—dubbed “zero draft”—on gender and climate change and met with W20 delegates and others in Jaipur in April to discuss recommendations and needed changes. W20 also hosted a series of panels including one on the technical and policy challenges to climate justice and gender equity. Contributors to the paper included HKSWN members from around the world: Eva Bernard MC/MPA 2017 (United Kingdom), Priscilla Mpundu HKSEE 2007 (Zambia), Sarah Boyd MC/MPA 2019 (Australia), Litcy Kurisinkal MPP 2013 (United States), Mayra Souza HKSEE 2018 (Belgium), Julie Godin MC/MPA 2013 (Luxembourg), Ines Manzano HKSEE 2020 (Ecuador), and Stephanie Oestreich MPA 2002, who is also a member of the HKSWN’s board and one of four chapter leads in Boston, the organization’s largest chapter.

At the Jaipur meeting, Der Avedissian spoke on a panel about moving from commitments to tangible actions to achieve a sustainable future. “Solving our climate challenges should not be regarded as a tool to preserve our global economic system,” she said. “We need to radically rethink the way we view natural resources and understand that without them, our world could not function.” She argued that to make progress, the G20 must involve women in “all areas of decision-making discussions”—and she offered specific ways to ensure that gender equity remains a key element of efforts to combat climate change.

Mahabalipuram in June

Members of the HKSWN also attended the W20’s meeting in Mahabalipuram in June, where Oestreich, who serves on the W20 task force on entrepreneurship, spoke on a panel titled, “Economic Empowerment Through Trade and Investment.”

Future Plans: Webinars and Greater Noida

Today, the HKSWN is working on a series of webinars on climate change and gender as well as on some of W20’s other focus areas, including women’s entrepreneurship and the care economy. The network also plans to participate in the W20’s September meeting in Greater Noida. Says HKSWN co-president Arabe, “We are so grateful to the W20 secretariat for inviting the HKSWN to partner with them and for hosting such an engaging series of discussions.” She notes that the HKSWN’s diversity brings strength to their efforts. “We’re from all these different countries, cultures, generations, political viewpoints, and life backgrounds—and everybody is coming together. That’s really the power of this network—that we can not only influence the agenda, but can also mobilize people remotely and globally to create real change.”